You worked so hard on that letter.

You wrote and rewrote. Your coworkers and Board members all looked at it.

You’ve made so many rounds of changes and tweaks that you’re just SURE it’s a winner.

So you send it out and wait.

And wait.

Donations start to trickle in, but nothing like what you had hoped for or what you need.

What went wrong?

I see it all the time.

Your nonprofit does good work. You’re changing lives for the better.

Yet somehow when you try to tell people about it, you don’t get the reaction you’re looking for.

The problem?

You’re being self centered.

 

Being self centered in fundraising

Being self centered in fundraising means you’re spending too much time talking about your organization.  It’s all about your programs, your budget, your needs.

Donors don’t care.

They don’t care about your need to keep the lights on or the staff paid.

When you ask them to support things they don’t care about, they don’t give.

So you have to take a broader approach and ask them to help you change lives, not to support your annual fund.

 

How it happens

I bet you don’t mean to be self centered.

You live and breathe your nonprofit every day, and because you’re likely working too fast, you just do what you think is best.

It’s time to stop that. Stop working out of habit. Stop working without thinking.

It’s time to be strategic and think about the best way to connect with donors.

 

How to stop being self centered

Think. What does your donor or prospect need to hear or see or feel to be moved to make a gift?

Hint: It’s not about your annual fund. It’s not about your need to keep the lights on or pay the staff.

That’s not what lights a donor up.

What DOES light them up?

Simple: Changing lives.

They want to be part of something that’s making a difference in this world.

Think about it: where else can someone change another life for the better just by writing a check or clicking the ‘donate now’ button?

 

Here are a few samples just to get you thinking.

Self centered language Donor centered language
Our organization has been around for 25 years, providing over 1,000 people a year with life-changing healthcare services. We help people who are struggling with healthcare to get the care they need so they don’t have to worry about being sick and missing work.
We serve over 10,000 people in our 16 programs in 12 counties. No matter where someone is in the greater Smallville area, there’s a clinic nearby where they can get the care they desperately need.
We thank you for your past support and hope you’ll support our annual fund. With your help, we can continue to make sure that everyone who needs healthcare services gets it. Together, we’re taking one problem off the plate of those who are facing difficult times.

 

 

Answer these 4 questions before you ask

Next time you need to write an nonprofit fundraising appeal or a newsletter or a social media post, answer these 4 questions:

1.  What action you want them to take? This may seem really obvious, but think it through. Do you want them to make a donation? How much? Are you going to ask every donor to make the same donation, or do you need to segment the list so you can ask your bigger donors for more? The more clear you can be about what you want them to do, the more likely you’ll be to get what you want.

2. What will move their heart? Giving is an emotional act. People decide to give with their heart then justify it with their head. So, what can you share that will compel them to get out their checkbook? A good story with plenty of emotion is usually all it takes. Use words and photos if possible to paint the picture, and help them understand the transformation your clients experience.

3. What will make them take action NOW? These days, people are inundated with messages, and we’ve all gotten really good at tuning things out. So you can’t just ask for a donation without giving people a really good reason to give and to give now. Create a sense of urgency. What will happen if you don’t raise the money you’re looking for? Will you have to establish a waiting list? Will people suffer? Is it life and death? Share that.

4. How can you make them the Hero? People love to feel good and know that they made a difference. Explain how their donation will make a difference. If you can tell them exactly what their gift will do, then do it. Give them an idea of how they will change a life with their donation.

 

Here’s one thing to watch out for. People often say to me “Our cause isn’t sexy. We’re not like the animal shelter. We don’t have kittens and puppies.” I think they’re trying to tell me their cause isn’t as good as another one.

You MUST FIND the sex appeal in your mission and be able to communicate it. If you can’t identify it, no one else will be able to either.

And you know what? It’s KEY to a donor-centered ask. Stay focused on what your nonprofit does that makes a difference and you’ll stop being self centered.

 

If you have a big dream for your nonprofit, you know you need people to help you achieve it.

You can’t do it alone. It’s too big.

I bet you’d love to have an army of people helping you get stuff done.

Maybe you’ve tried using volunteers, but you just can’t seem to get them to do what you need done without causing problems or extra work for you.

 

Maybe you’ve even said:

  • I can’t find anyone who wants to volunteer.
  • Volunteers are more trouble than they’re worth.
  • My Board doesn’t do anything to help.

Regardless of who you need to motivate (event volunteers, program volunteers, or even your Board), there are definitely ways to do it right so you get what you want and ways to mess it up so that everyone disappoints you.

In a perfect world, nonprofit volunteers would all be cheerful people who are excited to help you, need little supervision, and quickly understand the work they need to do. In a worst-case situation, they can be time-sucking, needy trolls who require constant supervision, and once they leave, you have to redo the work they did because it’s substandard.

Is there a happy medium where people can thrive and be very helpful without your constant supervision?

I believe there is.

I’ve experienced it myself. I’ve managed an army of volunteers and had them thank me for the opportunity to serve.

I’ve had long-term volunteers who became like staff and added a ton of value to the organization.

How does it happen? What does it take for you to become a Pied Piper who can round up a hoard of good volunteers and lead them into success?

It starts with YOU.

 

You are the leader to your nonprofit volunteer

 
Truth: you can’t reach your organization’s goals by yourself. You need other people to help.

I’ve run across a number of nonprofit leaders who are control freaks and want to try to do everything themselves. And guess what? They’re stressed out and working all the time trying to get it all done. It’s not pretty.

If you have a big vision for your nonprofit and how you want to change lives, you MUST surround yourself with good people who can help move you forward.
 
So, the real question is who do you need around you? And how do you get them to do what needs to be done?

And maybe the most important question – how do you need to show up to get the best out of your volunteers?

 

Work like Tom Sawyer

 
My favorite way to get the best from volunteers is to take a Tom Sawyer approach: Make work seem like fun and people will want to do it.

They may not want to pay you to do it like Tom’s friends, but if they have a good time, they’re likely to come back again and again.  (If this makes no sense to you, you may want to go read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.)

How YOU see the work that needs to be done has a big impact on how they will see it. We all take our cues from others. See the fun in the job and your volunteers will see it too.

Bottom line: If you think it’s a crappy job, so will everyone else. They’ll follow your lead.

And how you set up the scene for your new volunteers has a big impact on their experience.

 

5 Steps to a Successful Nonprofit Volunteer

 
So, what can you do to get people to do what you want them to do?
Here are 5 steps you should take to help people be successful in the role you’ve put them in.

 
1. Have clear expectations. I’d recommend having a detailed job description for the position you are filling. Include things like skills they need, when you need them, and start/stop dates if that’s appropriate. People like to know what they’re getting into, so the more you can help them understand about the role, the more likely they will be happy and do what you need them to do.2. Recruit the right person. Don’t try to put a round peg in a square hole – it doesn’t work. Start with your job description and recruit someone who will be a good fit. Don’t just plug in the first warm body you find – take the time to get the right person. The right person will be happy in their role, do a good job, want to come back, and say nice things about your nonprofit in the community. That’s something we all want! As you’re recruiting volunteers, don’t forget about retirees who still want to be active or college students who would love some practical experience. Both can contribute mightily to your cause. 

3. Train them. Once you have the right person for the job, teach them what they need to know to do it well. Be prepared to spend some time on this one – don’t just hastily go over the job once and expect them to get it all. Spend as much time as you need to really set them up for success. If it’s a complex job, you may need to work with them several times to make sure they get it. The more complicated the role the volunteer will fill, the more training they may need.

4. Support them. Once the volunteer is trained and working, check in with them to make sure things are going well. Give them feedback about how they’re doing. They may have ideas on ways to make the job better or more efficient, and if you don’t build in time to talk with them, you may never hear those ideas.

5. Celebrate wins. When things go well and the volunteer is doing a great job, celebrate it. When a project is completed, celebrate that, too. Thank your volunteers and let them know how much you appreciate them. Don’t skimp on this part – it’s important. When people feel needed and appreciated, they’ll give their best work and they’ll become more committed to you and your organization.

Those pesky problem people

Not everyone is in the right role, right now. Some people are in the wrong spot. Others need to leave and come back later (or maybe not at all!). You know who I’m talking about.

When you have people who are causing problems or suck the air out of your day, stop for a moment and see if you can find the disconnect. Are they in the wrong spot? Is there training or support they need? What’s the source of the problems?  Often, a little investigation can be very illuminating and help you fix it. After all, it may be more effective to “fix” a problem than to find a whole new volunteer.

If you do need to let a volunteer go, use my “Bless and Release” method. Thank them for their service and all the help they’ve provided, then release them back out into the world. You might say something like “We’re restructuring our volunteer roles and your spot is being combined with another one, so we need to talk about where else we can use you or if you’re ready for a break.”

Common problems

 
When you have good people in volunteer roles, amazing things can happen. When you have problems, it can be a nightmare.

Here are some common problems you can easily avoid.

  • Not being clear about what you want/need. Clarity leads to results. The more clear you can be about what you need someone to do, the more likely you’ll be to get what you want. For example, don’t ask someone to “help with fundraising.” What does that really mean? Instead, ask them to help you recruit 3 new $25 donors in the next 2 weeks. This is much more specific, right? Would YOU know what to do if someone asked you to do that?
  • Be realistic about commitments. Ask for something that people can realistically give. Don’t ask someone to do something pretty far outside of their comfort zone. For example, if you ask your whole Board to “find a sponsor for our upcoming event” and each one thinks they don’t know anyone who would want to be a sponsor, you’re probably going to be disappointed.
  • Define the end. Most people like to know when they’ll be done with something. If they’re signing up for a once-a-week spot, discuss the number of weeks they can commit to. If they’re coming to help with an event, let them know when their shift will end. I volunteered once for a gala and was asked to be the cashier since I knew how to process credit cards. They left me there with the cash box for about 2 hours AFTER the event ended! I couldn’t walk away – there was about $100,000 worth of cash, checks, and credit card slips in there. I finally had to chase someone down and tell them I couldn’t stay any longer – it was almost midnight. Not cool. Don’t do this to people – they won’t want to come back.

When you surround yourself with good volunteers who are glad to help you, you’ll get more done. When they are doing the things that you don’t need to be doing, you’ll be more effective.

Getting this right will take a little time, but trust me, when you get it right, you’ll not only have extra hands, but more supporters who want to see your nonprofit succeed.


Fundraising BoardPeople ask me this all the time —

How do I get my Board to fundraise?

Every Executive Director wants it. Every Founder needs it.

Just imagine – your WHOLE Board out there spreading the good word about your nonprofit in the community, telling their friends about your organization’s mission, and bringing resources back to help you change more lives.

Is it a fantasy?

Doesn’t have to be.

I’ve trained thousands of Board members how to do their job, including raise money. Along the way, I’ve learned a LOT about what makes an individual Board member tick. I’ve learned where they get hung up and why. And I’ve also figured out how to help them become a volunteer fundraiser.

Here’s a simple 3-step formula that I shared at the Best Friends conference a couple of weeks ago.

It’s called PET and if you follow the 3 steps, you can create the Board you want.

Before I share the system, I want to fill you in on a couple of things:
 

1. Not everyone on your Board SHOULD be on your Board. Some of them shouldn’t be on your Board RIGHT NOW. In other words, you probably don’t have the right people on your Board to start with. When you have some wrong Board members, there’s no amount of training or support that will turn them into fundraisers. If you think you can turn wrong Board members into Superstars, you’re sadly mistaken – it just won’t happen.
 

2. Most people dislike fundraising, usually because they’ve tried it before and didn’t like being told “no” or have some big fear around failing or looking stupid. Fundraising doesn’t feel natural to most people. We’re so used to being self sufficient that asking someone for help just goes against the grain. Add on top of that the fact that we don’t like being rejected, and no wonder people shy away from fundraising!

So how do you work with that to create a fundraising Board?

Here’s that 3-step formula:

1. PICK the right people to serve on your Board.

Fundraising BoardIt all starts with recruiting. You want a fundraising Board? Recruit people who think fundraising is fun or at least are willing to try it.

If you get lazy with the way you find new Board members or just go after “warm bodies”, you won’t be happy with the results. This happens when you wait until the last minute to find new Board members or when you start believing you’ll never get superstars on your Board. It sounds like this:

“Will you join my Board? You don’t have to do anything, just come to a few meetings and lend us your expertise. Please say “yes!” Pretty please with sugar on top??”
 
We’ve been having a conversation around Board recruitment in ARF Club, and several folks are frustrated with trying to find good new Board members. They believe they’ve been trying and trying to get the right people on their Board, only to be disappointed or frustrated. My answer? You can’t give up. Know what you want and need, then go find it.  If you’re a US-based 501c3, you MUST have a Board. So make it a good one.

It takes time to find the right people to serve on your Board. Treat it like hiring an employee – use an application, take the time to interview them, and check references if you want.

And remember, you have to kiss a lot of toads to find the prince.

2.       Engage your Board if you want them to fundraise.
 
People will not decide to help raise money on their own. It’s your job to inspire them to do it.

The best way to set your Board members up for success in fundraising is to regularly connect their hearts emotionally to your nonprofit’s mission. People do amazing things when they feel moved. It gives them courage and strength to overcome their fear and do things they otherwise wouldn’t do.

Spend 5 minutes at the beginning of every meeting reconnecting people with your mission. Tell a story. Show a video. Do SOMETHING with strong emotional pull.

Engagement also happens when people are involved and feel ownership. If your Board members see themselves as part of your team, they’re more likely to help. How do you create “team?” Involve them in planning. Let them be part of Board-level decisions. Show them how important they are to your organization’s work.

A quick test to see if they’re engaged is to watch the pronouns. If they say “you” and “your” (“You should think about this…”) they aren’t engaged. If they say “we” and “us,” (“We should plan a thank-a-thon…”) they’re on your team and ready to play ball.

Fundraising Board3. Teach your Board how to be good Fundraisers.

No one is born knowing how to raise money. It’s a learned skill.

And I haven’t seen a Board member yet go out and learn those skills on their own.

It’s your job to train them and give them the tools they need to do the job.

You wouldn’t hire a new Administrative Assistant and just throw her into the job without some orientation would you? You’d show her around, go over her new responsibilities, and help her do her job. Same thing with your Board.

Teach your Board how donor-based fundraising works. Give them the tools they need to be successful. Every time I lead a Board retreat, I show Board members what fundraising is all about and I help them find their spot where they can plug in and be productive while still being in their comfort zone.

Realize this: you know more about what your Board should be doing than they do. So teach them. Share articles with them. Point them to www.BoardSource.org and tell them to sign up for their newsletter. Just help them. And don’t quit. You can’t provide education once to your Board and expect that to last forever. Ongoing education is a good thing.

Going forward

Now, as you start to implement these new strategies, you may meet some resistance. It’s common. People don’t like change and are really slow to embrace it. If you can get one or two of your current Board members on the same page with you, this process will be easier.

It can take some time to make these kinds of changes on your Board. It’s like turning the Titanic – it’s a slow but important process.

And if what you really want is a Board full of people who help raise money, it’s worth spending the time on.
 

Want more help creating a fundraising Board?

We’re rolling out a brand-new ecourse this month called “How to Create a Fundraising Board.” Every week, you’ll get a lesson delivered to your inbox that teaches you what you need to know to engage and train your Board. Curious? Get all the details (and an earlybird price!) at http://getfullyfunded.com/fundraisingboard/.

Fast Nonprofit Decisions

The “To Do” list never ends.
 
The Inbox is never empty.
 
There’s ALWAYS more to do than you can get done.
 
These are facts of life in our fast-paced world.
 
And even though there doesn’t seem to be a way to change it, what we CAN change is how we manage it.
 
Lately, I’ve noticed lots of people suffering with bulging Inboxes and ridiculously long lists of stuff to do. What I also notice is that they’re very slow to make decisions.
 
One of my coaches says “Indecision is a form of self abuse.”
 
I think she might be right.
 
When you can’t decide, you put the decision off and leave yourself in a state of limbo, not committing to one thing or another.
 
For example, an email shows up in your inbox announcing an upcoming webinar. It looks sort of interesting, but you’re not sure you want to carve out the time to attend, not to mention the $47 to pay for it. So you leave it, thinking you’ll decide later.
 
You have now created unfinished business and it may leave you feeling a little haunted. When you add up all the hanging decisions waiting for you plus projects that never quite get completed, it’s no wonder that you feel like a hamster on a wheel, working and working but not feeling like you accomplished anything.
 
What you need is to learn to make fast nonprofit decisions.
 
 
Fast Decisions
 
There’s a fair amount of stuff in your life that needs some thought put into it. There’s another large amount that could (and should) be quickly decided so you can move on.
 
You may have problems making fast decisions if you’re a

  • Procrastinator. You put off making a decision because you’re afraid you might choose wrong.
  • Perfectionist. You need everything to be JUST RIGHT and if you aren’t sure, you decide you’ll wait until you can be sure.
  • Over-analyzer. You don’t think you have enough information to make the right decision, so you’ll wait until you have time to do a bit more research.
  • Crowd Follower. You like to see what everyone else is doing before you decide what you want to do.

Any of this sound familiar? Thought so.
 
So, how does this show up for you?
 
Maybe you have 100 unanswered emails in your inbox, because you’re so busy during the day you decide you’ll wait til tomorrow to get to them, except tomorrow never comes. Meanwhile, requests for you to speak at the Rotary Club and announcements about grant opportunities are slipping through your fingers.
 
Maybe you have the chance to be the recipient of the proceeds from a charity event being hosted by a local civic club, but you’re not sure it’ll be worth much, so you decide to wait until you can figure out the right thing to do. You’re tired of doing nickel and dime fundraising, but you don’t yet have criteria to decide when to say “yes” and when to say “no.” So the decision doesn’t get made and it’s one more thing hanging over your head.
 
 
How do you make Fast Decisions?
 

First, you have to define for yourself which things can be decided quickly and which need more thought.
 
For me, I leave my quality thinking time to decisions that have a big impact on my world. These are typically strategic in nature, require a large investment of money or time, or have the potential to either move me forward quickly or harm me in a big way.
 
Decisions about whether to attend the local AFP meeting or participate in a webinar or read an article are easy. I’ll make those quickly. Scheduling an appointment for a client or prospect is another easy one.  There’s no benefit to overthinking any of these.
 
 
Fast decision techniques
 
If this is new to you, you may benefit from a specific method. Here are a few you can try to make fast decisions:

 
1. The 2-minute rule. If you can make a decision in 2 minutes or less, just do it, be finished with it, and move on. Most of the stuff in your inbox can be handled quickly, as can a good bit of paperwork that flows your way. Don’t let it linger – it’ll eat up your energy. There’s nothing magic about 2 minutes – it could easily be 4 or 5. The point is to give yourself a deadline to get things decided so you can move on. This one is great for Perfectionists.
 
2. Draw from a hat. If all choices seem equal, write each one down on a piece of paper and throw them in a hat. Then draw one out and go with it. It’ll help you get moving quicker. For example, if you’re trying to choose a caterer for your next event, and you have 3 candidates that all have great references and similar prices, try throwing their names in a hat so you can just pick one. This one is great for Over-Analyzers.
 
3. Pair work with fun. Give yourself a reward for actually making a decision or a bunch of decisions. Sometimes when we know that there’s fun right around the corner, we can get stuff done. Don’t believe me? How much did you get done the day before you went on your last vacation? I practice this one myself. Sometimes, I work on cleaning out my Inbox for the day and as soon as I’m done, I cruise Facebook for 10 minutes. This one is great for Procrastinators.
 
4. Best Self. Sometimes we get really scared about making decisions because we’re afraid we’ll choose wrong.  The next time that happens, tune in to your Best Self and decide from there. Your Best Self is the smartest, wisest version of you. It’s the one that always knows what’s right for you and never steers you wrong. Everyone has a Best Self although few people give it a chance to surface regularly. Next time you can’t decide, let your Best Self make the decision. It might be easiest to ask yourself “What would my Best Self say?” This one is great for Perfectionists and Crowd Followers.
 
“But what if I don’t have enough information?”
 
Well, here’s the thing: you probably won’t. Ever.
 
You need to be able to trust yourself to make a decision with the information you have. Gathering more info is a stalling technique for folks who are afraid of choosing the wrong option. You can put things off for months or years if you use this excuse, and to what end? Does it help you fulfill your organization’s mission if you stall or get stuck, unable to decide?
 
 
Benefits of Fast Decisions
 
When you learn to make fast decisions, you’ll find that you can get more done in the day. You’ll spend less time agonizing over unimportant items which will save you time that you can spend on more important things and actually lower your stress in the process.
 
You’ll save your bandwidth for things that matter, like loving on your donors and writing grant proposals.
 
 
Tips for making Fast Decisions

1. Trust your gut. Your intuition is usually right. Listen to it.
2. Eliminate options. Sometimes you have too many choices and it’s overwhelming. Know this: a confused mind shuts down. If you have 4 options, try to eliminate the ones that clearly aren’t a good fit. For example, if you’re trying to decide on a donor-tracking software and there’s one that’s waaaaaay out of your budget, drop it out of the running. If there’s another one that doesn’t have very good reviews, drop that one, too.  Eliminating options will help you laser in on the right choice.
3. Think of time as money. If you had to pay yourself your hourly rate for the time that it takes you to make the decision, would your organization get its money’s worth?
4. Practice makes it easier. The more you make fast decisions, the easier it gets and the better you’ll get at it. 

Try one of these techniques and see what happens when you start making fast decisions. You may feel nervous at first, but don’t worry. Anytime you try something new, it can be uncomfortable. Just go with it and see what happens.

Going to conferences is fun.
 
You get away from the chaos of the office for a while. You get to meet cool new people. You hear fresh ideas and new ways of doing things. Maybe you even get some free goodies in the exhibit hall.
 
Then the conference ends and you head home. And as you travel, you start to dread the piles of emails, voicemail and paperwork that you know is waiting for you.
 
When you get back, you immediately dive in, trying to recover from being gone. It’s like hacking through a jungle trying to get through everything.

Sometimes it just seems like it’s not worth leaving because you get too far behind.
 
Meanwhile, all your notes and precious new ideas go to waste because you just can’t seem to find time to implement them.
 
Sound familiar?
 
It happens to all of us from time to time. For some of us, it happens nearly every time.
 
So what can you do?
 
 
Try these 7 ideas for getting the most out of your nonprofit conference experience and training investment.
 

1. Set goals. What do you want to walk away from the training with? Are you looking to learn something specific? Or just looking for new ideas? Do you need affirmation that you’re on the right path? It’s a good idea to be as clear and specific as possible about what you want to have learned once the training event is over.

 

2. Support your learning style. Do you prefer taking notes with pen and paper? Then invest in a dollar store journal so you can keep all your notes from the conference in one place. Like taking notes on a laptop? Create a file for your notes where you can easily find them later. If the conference offers recordings of the sessions, you might consider getting those so you can review them again later (you’ll tend to forget things over time and listening to a session again can help you remember the details).

 

3. Make a list of 3 key nuggets. For every breakout session you attended, make a list of 3 key takeaways. What were your big AHAs from the session? Highlight them in your notes so you can easily find them later.

 

4. Make an Action Item list.  At the end of the conference, go back through your notes and make a list of Action Items – those things you really want to try out. Once you’ve captured them all, pick the top 3 to start with. Pick ONE and list out the actions that will need to happen. Then put the first action on your calendar. For example, if your Action Item is to start a monthly giving program, the first step might be to research other nonprofits like yours that have monthly giving to see how they do it. Add that to your “to do” list for the coming week.  
 
5. Reach out with questions. Don’t be afraid to email a speaker for clarification or to ask a question. Many speakers are happy to help you out with a question or two, and if they aren’t, you haven’t lost anything.
 
6. Connect on social media. Remember all those cool people you met at the training? Connect with them on social media so you can stay in touch. Chances are good that the folks you sat beside are trying to implement the same things you are. You might see them doing something really cool that you can try, too.

 

7. Share what you learned. Be sure to share your biggest takeaways with your co-workers and Board. It not only helps them learn a little something, but shows that you got a good return on investment for the event. This might also be a good time to thank your Board for sending you to the training. 

The main thing is to DO SOMETHING with what you just learned. The sooner, the better.
 
Otherwise, it was just a fun time. And fun times don’t fund your life-changing work.


Your first day on the Board is kind of like the first day of school.

Everything is fresh and new, and the future holds so much promise.

You’re excited because you believe in the organization’s mission, and you really want to help, but you’re not exactly sure what that looks like.

Then reality sets in when you realize how much you don’t know.

You’re trying to understand the nonprofit’s programs and lingo. There are tons of acronyms to figure out. The staff wants all the Board to help out with fundraising, and wait, what? Ask for money? They’re kidding, right?

And yet that’s how it feels.

Being a new member of the Board can be overwhelming.  There’s so much to learn.

There’s no Board School to send them to so they can learn their job. For most, it’s on-the-job training, which means toss ‘em in and see if they sink or swim.

As someone who has trained hundreds of Board members how to do their job, and someone who has served on several Boards, I’d like to share a few things that might make it easier for Board newbies.

Here are 10 things that every new Board member needs to know, to help ease the transition into Board service.

 
 
1. You have a learning curve ahead. They will firehose information at you during orientation and you’ll forget most of it. It’s okay. Just make the effort to keep learning everything you can about the nonprofit. Make it a point to learn something about the organization each week. At the end of a few months, you’ll feel more confident. At the end of a year, you’ll be an old pro.
 
 
2. Bring your talents, skills, and connections to the table. You’re not just another pretty face. The organization needs what you have. Don’t wait for the staff or another Board member to ask you to help, find a place where you can be of the most service and jump in. Offer up what you’re best at. It’s what you’re there for.
 
 
3. Be prepared to spend some time on Board work. If you’re expecting to spend an hour a month fulfilling your Board duties, you may not be the best person to serve on this Board. Board members should not only show up for Board meetings, they should also serve on a committee, and help out in other ways as needed. You are now a leader of the organization, and you need to spend some time providing leadership. And besides, the more involved you are, the more you’ll know about the nonprofit and the easier it will be to talk to friends and family about the organization’s mission.
 
 
4. Spend time on the front lines (the earlier in your Board term, the better). Getting up close to the nonprofit’s work in action is the best way to immerse yourself and quickly understand what the programs are all about. Plus it will give you your own story to tell and that’s always a good thing. You’ll likely come away with a renewed passion for the importance of the work.
 
 
5. Ask questions. It’s perfectly okay for you to ask questions when you don’t understand something. In fact, it’s your responsibility. You’re there to provide leadership. It won’t make you look stupid to ask for clarification on a subject or to hear the back story. It’s also okay to disagree with the rest of the Board. Your opinion matters, so voice it.
 
 
6. Give to the organization. You need to make a donation to the nonprofit you sit on the Board of. You’re a leader. People in the community will be looking to see what the Board does before they make their own gift. If the leaders don’t support the organization financially, why should anyone else? Yes, you’re giving your time and talent. You need to give treasure, too. And not from your company, although that would be nice. You need to make a personal financial gift. No getting out of it.
 
 

7. Understand how fundraising works. If you’re hesitant about helping with fundraising, don’t worry – There’s more to it than asking for money. If you aren’t comfortable asking, get involved in thanking donors, finding new donors, helping to spread the word about the nonprofit, or bringing other resources to the table. There are ALL kinds of ways you can be helpful without asking someone for money.
 
 
8. Make the effort to understand the financial statements. You don’t get a pass if you’re not a numbers person. Too bad. Buck up and learn to read the financial statements. Pay attention to the Finance reports and don’t rubber stamp them. If this ship goes down, you may go down with it because as a member of the Board, you now have some personal responsibility for the nonprofit. Try to learn or understand one thing a month about the financials, and after a year, you’ll be much more knowledgeable and confident.
 
 
9. Practice talking to people about the organization. Learn some words and phrases you can use to describe the nonprofit’s work. Ask staff and other Board members what they say when they’re describing the organization. You’re an ambassador in the community – be prepared to highlight the mission and the difference the organization is making.
 
 
10. Don’t be a problem child. Nonprofit staff are overworked. You wouldn’t believe all the stuff they’re trying to get done in a day. So do your part – respond to phone calls, emails, and texts. Don’t make the staff chase you down to get an RSVP or the answer to a question. You’re here to help, not cause more problems.
 
 
Learning to be a good Board member is like anything else: it won’t happen overnight. Just like learning to ride a bike, it takes some practice and you’ve got to stick with it. Eventually, you’ll learn how to balance and then the fun begins!

Enjoy your Board journey!


July 1st is an important day.
 
For many, it’s a new fiscal year.  For others, it’s the halfway mark.
 
Either way, it’s a good time to pause and evaluate where you are.
 
Sometimes we all get so busy with the doing that we don’t do enough of the thinking.
 
One of the biggest mistakes I see nonprofit leaders make is that they’re so busy doing fundraising that they don’t take the time to evaluate whether the activities are bringing them the return that they want. In other words, they don’t stop to see if they are doing things that are actually raising the kind of money they want and need to fully fund their budget and change lots of lives.
 
Now is a REALLY good time to evaluate and see what needs to change in the coming 6 months.
 
I remember when I was a Development Director at an organization with a July-June fiscal year.  It was a bittersweet time – I’d feel really good about what I just accomplished in the previous year, and suddenly it was July 1, and I was back to zero.
 
Most of the time, I was okay with that, because I had a plan and I knew what I needed to do in the coming year.
 
I know not everyone has that confidence.
 
So, let’s make it simple.
 
Let me give you 3 things to focus on that will make a HUGE difference in your results this year.
 
These are really simple, so don’t dismiss them. They’re very powerful. The smart and successful nonprofits will be practicing these 3 ideas this year.
 
Ready?
 
Let’s make this your best year ever. Make it the Year of the Donor.
 
The days of everything being all about you and your Annual Fund and your budget are over. It’s time to be all about your non-profit donor and her interests. It’s time to understand her and what makes her tick. It’s high time to find out what she cares about and how she wants to be communicated with. No more guessing – it’s time to work from fact.
 
So, how do you make it the Year of the Donor?
 
Commit to these 3 practices this year and watch things change.
 
 
1. Pay more attention to donor retention than to funding your budget. 

It’s a sad fact: if you’re an average nonprofit, you’re losing more donors than you’re attracting these days. And why are they leaving? It’s pretty simple – they’re bored. They’re disengaged. They believe that they aren’t important to your nonprofit – that their donation doesn’t make a difference.

Donor retention can no longer be ignored. If you want to raise more money, you MUST pay attention to your donors, not just their money. It’s about how they FEEL, and again, if you’re an average nonprofit, your donors don’t feel much of anything from you.
 
The good news is that it’s easily fixed. Step one is to think like a donor. If you’re the donor, what do you care about? What warms your heart? What turns you off? Get a piece of paper and write down the answers to these questions. Ask your coworkers what they would care about it they were your donor. Spend some time on this and see what you can come up with.
 
Step 2 is to go directly to the source. Ask some of your donors what they care about. What part of your organization matters most to them. What turns them on? What could they care less about? Again, write it all down. See if their answers match yours. If they don’t match, it doesn’t matter, because their answers are the ones that count.
 
Step 3 is to change how you talk to them. Know that you know what matters to them, write interesting, meaningful newsletters filled with stories and tidbits that they will want to know. Share heart-warming stories. Give them something to care about.
 
If you follow these simple steps, you’ll shift your perspective and be well on your way to complete donor-based fundraising.
 
 
2. Be consistent in communicating with donors and prospects.
 
Once you the messaging nailed, be consistent in sharing it.
 
Have you ever had a friend that the only time you heard from them was when they wanted something? I think we all have. And you’re probably showing up as that creep in your fundraising.
 
If all you do is show up in the mailbox or inbox with your hand out, congratulations, you’re a Professional Beggar. Trust me, it’s not going to work out the way you want. You can’t ask, ask, ask and build meaningful relationships.
 
Remember that your donors are valuable resources. They’re your partners in mission. Don’t you need to communicate with your partners regularly? (Hint: yes you do).

Lay out a schedule for newsletters, eblasts, and any other communications you plan to send to your donors. Put it on a calendar. Then stick to the plan. Building those relationships is THE most important thing on your plate. Make it a priority then stick with it.
 
I talked with a client this week who told me about some donors who had given a $5,000 gift (which was a big gift for his young nonprofit). That was 18 months ago, and he hasn’t spoken to them since. I doubt he’s sent a regular newsletter or done much of anything to help the donors feel good about their decision to give. What do you think the chances are of getting another gift, especially at that level? Mmm hmmmm. Not so hot. It can be done, but wouldn’t it be easier to just make nice-nice with donors from the get-go? Wouldn’t it be easier to stay in touch with the regularly and avoid the problems that radio silence creates?
 
Go figure out your communication schedule. Now. I mean it. Write it down and stick to it.
 
 
3.       Make your donor the hero and help them feel it.
 
One of the best shifts you can make is to stop thinking of donors as a checkbook and start seeing them as partners in your work.
 
When you think of them as a checkbook or ATM card, you don’t have to care about their feelings. And that’s when the problems start. That’s when apathy sets in. That’s when donors start to look around at other nonprofits who might actually care about them. And BAM, you just lost them.
 
Here’s the truth: Your donors make your nonprofit’s work possible. Unless you’re funding it yourself, you need other peoples’ money to make the magic happen and change lives.
 
Your donors are the heroes. Even the ones who only give you $5. Treat them accordingly.
 
How should a hero be treated? With a lot of respect and admiration. They’re a top priority. They get the best of everything and deserve it. With sports heroes, we throw parades in their honor. For military heroes, they get discounts at their favorite restaurants.
 

Now, think about how you are currently treating your donors. Are you respecting and admiring them? Are they your top priority or do they get a phone call returned when you get around to it (after paperwork and everything else is done). Are you giving them your best? If you’re not too proud of your answers, go change it. You’re not a tree- you can move.
 
Make sure that everything you send to your donors makes them the hero and helps them feel that way. Review everything (newsletters, thank-you letters, social media, etc.) before it goes out for herotization.
 
These are pretty dang important shifts you need to make in your fundraising. And it’s time that you make them.
 
If you choose not to – maybe you’re too busy or maybe you don’t want to get on this ‘donor kick’ – you’ll continue to get the kind of results you’re getting now.
 
But if you want something different – if you want to raise enough money to fully fund your budget in a way that you can repeat year after year – well, you better buckle up Buttercup and implement what I’ve laid out here.  Pay attention to your donors. Communicate consistently. Make them the hero. And your fundraising will change.
 
After all, it’s the Year of the Donor.


Freedom: the absence of necessity, coercion or constraint in choice or action.Here in the US, we’re celebrating Independence Day. It’s a holiday that means summertime fun to many: watermelon, cookouts, and fireworks.

It also means freedom – freedom to live how we want to live.

Here are some other definitions of freedom (www.merriam-webster.com):

  • Being released from something onerous
  • The quality of being frank, open, or outspoken
  • Boldness of conception or execution
  • Unrestricted use

You know, several of those make me think of fundraising.

When we raise money to change lives, we are helping to release folks from something onerous.

Lots of nonprofits draw a line in the sand about a particular issue and speak frankly about it. Think of all the nonprofits that take a stand for the environment, human rights, and animal welfare.

Some nonprofits have big bold plans that they work toward and they are relentless in pursuing them.

The work we do in the nonprofit world matters. We make a difference. I know it’s easy to forget that when you’re up to your elbows in details and administration. But it’s important to stop and reflect on it.

I see way too many good organizations struggling to raise the money they need. Often, they have a mission that matters, but they’re stuck being disorganized, unfocused, and scattered.

Maybe it’s time we declare our freedom from things that hold us back. Maybe we should rebel against work habits that no longer serve us. Maybe we should all STOP doing what no longer works and START doing things that bring us a huge return on our investment of time, energy, and money.

Let’s declare war on mediocrity in fundraising! Let’s mutiny against common, boring practices of ho-hum fundraising so we can create an environment of philanthropy that’s fun for us to work in, fun for donors to participate in, and changes more lives than ever before.

Ready to break free? Here are 10 truths to embrace if you want to join the revolution:

1. Self-centeredness must be replaced by donor-centeredness. Your messaging cannot be all about you – your programs, your budget, you, you, you. Who cares? When it’s all about you and your need to raise your annual fund, you actually repel donors. Make the shift to become donor-centered. When you become donor-centered and you care FIRST about the donor, THEN about their money, everything will change.

2. The relationship is worth more than the money. Once you begin to care about the donor as a person and not record number 1453, you’ll become interested in what matters to them. You’ll stop staring at their checkbook. You’ll actually want to know what they care about and why they support your nonprofit. People will feel it. The language you use in your newsletter and thank-you letters will change, and donors will start to feel more valued and appreciated. And guess what happens when donors feel valued and appreciated?

3. Program goals must be set before fundraising can begin. Don’t try to do fundraising backwards: don’t try to go out and raise as much as you can, then figure out how to spend it. Start by deciding how your programs will change lives, then figure out what that will cost. THAT’S how much money you should raise. If it’s just not possible to raise that amount, adjust your program goals. It’s a whole lot easier to raise money when you can tell people specifically how the money will be used instead of “support our cause.” Donors like to know how they’re helping you make a difference and you can share that when you start with a program goal.

4. Status quo in fundraising restricts growth. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got. Every strategy you use – every event, every appeal, every communication – must be monitored for its effectiveness. You must stay in a state of curiosity about your activities. Discover why your under performing activities are happening and find a way to tweak them to improve them. Find out why your successes are happening so you can repeat them purposefully. Constant learning will keep you not only looking internally, but also looking for best practices in the industry to bring back and apply to your nonprofit.


5. Working without a plan will never fully fund your mission. When you have no written plan for fundraising, you’ll spend your days fighting fires and playing “Whack-A-Mole” with your inbox. You’ll spend a ton of time being very busy, but you’ll never reach your fundraising goals. Without a plan, you’ll always be reacting to what others want you to do and chances are good you’ll always be working at the last minute to get things done.

6. Sole-source funding is not a secure way to fund your budget.  Relying on one source of revenue for your nonprofit is a dangerous situation. If that one grant or event diminishes or goes away, you’ll be dead in the water and forced to cut programs. Create diversified revenue streams that come from multiple sources. That way if you lose one grant or decide to cut an event, you can easily make it up from another source.

7. Power must be balanced between the Board and Executive Director to provide optimal leadership to the nonprofit. A healthy nonprofit has a Board made up of skilled, connected, caring people who are willing to bring their skills and connections to the table. A healthy nonprofit also has a passionate, skilled Executive Director who can effectively administer the work of the organization. When these two work together as partners, anything is possible. When a nonprofit has a strong Board and weak ED, there are problems like micromanaging. When a nonprofit as a weak Board and strong ED, the ED does all the heavy lifting of leadership and feels like the Lone Ranger.  When power swings one way or the other, there’s a lack of trust and usually some kind of drama. It’s best when there’s a balance of power along with mutual respect and healthy communication. It takes work to make it happen, but it IS possible and it’s a beautiful thing once it’s in place.

8. It takes a team to reach big goals with fully funded budgets.  When you’re passionate about the cause and you’ve poured your heart into its success, it can be really tough to turn pieces of the organization over to others. But if you have a BIG vision, you can’t do it alone. You will need a team of people around you to help. Start by creating systems so that no matter who does a job, they’ll get the same result. Whether you’re welcoming new donors or signing up sponsors for your next event, you need a documented, step-by-step process. When you have in writing how a task should be done, it’s easy to find the right staff person or volunteer, and train them. If you don’t systematize, you’ll try to control everything yourself and you’ll wind up burning out.

9. Growth depends on systems. If you plan to grow your nonprofit so you can change more lives, you’ll likely need more hands to help and more money to pay for it. The only way to leverage is with systems. A system is simply a way of doing something so that you get the same result every time. Think of how chaotic Starbucks would be if they didn’t have a system for creating a Mocha Latte. They would never have experienced the explosive growth they have if it weren’t for their systems. Same thing goes for you – you want to grow? You need systems. Yes, it takes time to figure them out and get them in writing, but once you do, you’ll not only free up some of your time, you’ll set your organization up for bigger success.

10. When donors feel good about giving, they’ll usually do it again. Your number one priority in fundraising should be to give donors a GREAT experience with you. Thank them early and often. Stay in touch with them to let them know the impact their gift has had. Help them feel really good about their decision to give, and chances are good they’ll do it again. If you want to create sustainable funding for your nonprofit, this is the key. It’s all about thanking them well, having a regular story-rich newsletter, and adding in additional delights periodically to add a little “wow” to their experience.

So there you have it, my rebel friends. Follow these 10 declarations and you’ll be well on your way to creating the fundraising you’ve always dreamed of.